Civil Beat Law Center Aims To Bring More Firepower to Public Issues

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

We devote a lot of time and much space here at Civil Beat to the issue of government transparency and accountability.

Hawaii actually has decent laws covering public information — the Sunshine Law for open meetings and the Uniform Information Practices Act that specifies what public records can and cannot be disclosed. But in practice, county and state government agencies in Hawaii are not great when it comes to following and enforcing the law.

We've found that it's common for agencies to routinely reject — without good reason — requests for reports, documents and other information that should be readily available. They sometimes simply ignore legitimate inquiries from the press and the public or stall for months. Their redactions can black out whole pages.

The state Office of Information Practices is in place to help people get through the bureaucratic stalemate but, as we've reported several times, OIP is about two years behind on resolving appeals. Its opinions requiring disclosure are routinely ignored by agencies.

The only real recourse for journalists or the public is to go to court to force the issue. But the cost of legal action is very often a deal breaker. The public as well as the media has let the agencies off the hook because it's just too expensive to follow through with a lawsuit.

But that is changing. The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest has been created with funding from the Hawaii Community Foundation via the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Ohana Fund.

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